I've been a big fan of Hot Smoked Salmon since I was a kid growing up in Seattle. It was a big treat to get a hunk of it at the Public Market early on a Saturday morning for consumption with cheese and crackers later in the day while watching a game on TV.
Great Smoked Salmon is easy to make if you are patient and have the right recipe. It all starts off with a nice piece of fresh fish. Even though I'm not a fan of farmed Salmon I do find it to be a pretty good product for smoking because of its uniformity in size and affordability. Alaskan Sockeye is another good choice when in season and on sale.
Salmon & Marinade
I like to marinate my fish in a smoky alcohol for an hour before moving on to the dry cure stage. It cleans up the fish and helps keep the albumin in check. It also imparts a little flavor while helping the cure do a better job.
- 3 lb Skinless Salmon Fillet
- 1/2 cup Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Mezcal, or Bourbon
The Dry Cure
The two important ingredients are brown sugar and salt. You can stop right there if you want. The other spices altered any way you wish. The pink salt is simply a preservative that adds a really nice color to fish. The key is to deliver a product that has a lot of flavor without being too salty. If you are using a skinless filet the curing process will take 4-5 hours. The longer you leave the cure on the saltier the fish will taste. If your filets are skin on then double the curing time.
- 1 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 cup Kosher Salt
- 1 tbs Pink Salt
- 2 tbs Black Peppercorns
- 1 tbs Juniper Berries
- 1 tbs Ground Cloves
- 1 tbs White Pepper
- 1 Star Anise
- 2 Bay Leaves
After the curing is done you rinse the cure off the fish and set the filets on a wire rack to dry for at least 2 hours. I go the extra step. I let it dry overnight to develop a great pellicle. The pellicle is a skin that forms on the surface of the fish which allows the smoke to not only be absorbed better by the filet but also look a lot better when the smoking is finished. Feel free to season the fish with pepper and dried garlic.
I go with a 3 hours per inch rule on Salmon in the smoker at around 200-225 degrees. The lower the temperature the longer you can expose the salmon to the smoke without drying out the fish. Once the filet reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees it is done. Alder is the traditional wood for smoking salmon. Apple and Cherry and fruitwoods work well too. Hickory and pecan in general are too strong for fish.
Slice and Serve
As soon as it comes out of the smoker it is fair game for immediate eating but the best way to handle it is to let cool on the wire racks to room temperature and then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Once it is cool it is ready to slice and serve.
- Apple or Alder Wood Chips